The importance of fika

Do you fika? Fika (fee-ka) is the Swedish word (used both as a verb and as a noun) for a coffee break that’s more about socializing than about drinking coffee. According to the “Fika Report 2013” the Swedish spend 9.5 days per year on coffee breaks, during which they share information and comment on what’s happening.

coffee_break

Most business presenters will agree that sharing information with the people listening to you is (one of) the objective(s) of delivering a presentation. But there’s actually more to achieve. Each time you address an audience, you get a unique opportunity to “make them think” and help them create new knowledge.

English writer Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) described knowledge as “a subject we know ourselves, or one we know where we can find information upon.” Let me illustrate this with a contemporary example from everyday life:

  • You may open any encyclopedia or launch a search on Google and you will quickly learn that a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable – so this is the information you can find.
  • You may however ask every housewife or hobby cook if they have ever mixed (cherry) tomatoes in a fruit salad and expect them to stare at you as if you were coming from a distant planet. The fact that you DON’T put tomatoes into a bowl of fruit salad is an example of information that is (probably only) available in the mind of the beholder.

This premise that there are two types of knowledge is also one of the fundamentals of Japanese professor Ikujiro Nonaka’s knowledge spiral (also known as the SECI model), as described in his book about “the knowledge-creating company.”

  • Explicit knowledge is the objective, factual and rational knowledge that can be expressed in words, numbers and formulas. Bits of information that can be easily synthesized onto slides. Such as “tomatoes are fruit.” Full stop.
  • But each single member of your audience also holds a massive amount of so-called tacit knowledge. The subjective and experience based (and often also context-based) soft-facts that are stored in people’s minds and memory. Tacit knowledge may also include mental models, cognitive skills and technical skills, such as know-how and how-to. “No right-thinking human being would ever put tomatoes in a fruit salad.” Which planet are you coming from?

Information can be converted into knowledge, and each type of knowledge can be transformed into the other one: tacit knowledge can be made explicit (externalized), and explicit knowledge may be absorbed (internalized) and combined into new tacit knowledge. Nonaka models these handovers into a spiral, as they are facilitating a continuous learning process within a community of people, a company or an organization.

This is why you need to take time for fika. When you, as a public speaker, limit your interaction with the audience to externalization, i.e. standing in front, delivering your talk, and doing a Q&A at the end, you’re going to miss every opportunity to socialize with them.

nonaka_spiral

So, break up your monologue from time to time and join the people who have listened to you for coffee breaks and networking drinks. Because each of these breaks may power a new cycle of the knowledge creation spiral. Fueled by a cup of coffee, with – if you don’t mind – some sweets on the side.

Some background reading related to this post:

Fear, uncertainty and doubt

We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them.” – Christian Nestell Bovee, American writer

Most humans tend to be afraid of the unknown. As such, some marketers and sales people (and politicians – but this is out of the context of this post) try to implant fear, uncertainty and doubt (also known as FUD, a term introduced by Gene Amdahl) in people’s minds to make them buy their products or services, or to prevent them from trying competitors’ ones.

caution_tape

In an earlier blog post, I iterated a number of narrative patterns to be (re)used in presentations. In today’s post, I’m adding a few FUD related items to this list:

  • Create a sense of urgency by confronting people with a (familiar) situation, and making them aware of the threats they are facing if they don’t react timely or properly. You may appeal to their emotion and/or ratio by telling anecdotes, referring to case studies or citing from media clippings. The call for action (remember AIDA…) at the end is always a no-brainer: “Act now!” or “Buy now!”
  • Telling a story with open ending can also be a good way to instill doubt. People may start making (sometimes irrational) assumptions and come to (sometimes wrong) conclusions. Feed their imagination and steer their judgment by introducing an antagonist (your competitor), bringing in some gossip, or posing some insinuating questions.
  • By listing the perceived risks of doing (or not doing) certain things, using (or not using) certain products, or working (or not working) with a certain partner, you may create a feeling of uncertainty. Then relieve your audience’s minds by showing them that you have the best and most safe solution, and that you are the most trustworthy party to deal with.

Although FUD may be an effective competitive weapon, my advice is not to use fear as a tactic (and if you do, apply it scarcely and with caution.) Don’t sling mud to your competitors, but rather give a positive message and to tell a story with a happy ending.

Here’s some more reading:

Denning’s patterns

“A story is a fact, wrapped in an emotion that compels us to take an action that transforms our world.” – Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman in “The Elements of Persuasion

A story is an extremely powerful format for delivering your message. By putting things in (a sometimes surprising) context, and wrapping facts in emotion, it helps people ingest, digest and retain the information you present them. A good business narrative taps into your personal strengths or experience, appeals to the specific audience in the room and calls them for action. As such, it should be clear that there is no one-size-fits-all template for a good story, or an exhaustive list of “stories that can be told.” Still, there may be some tips on what to tell (or not to tell) in certain situations.

If you’re looking for such a list of best practices, or a taxonomy of story formats, you may have a look at the work of Steven Denning (a former Program Director of Knowledge Management at the World Bank, and a international authority on leadership, innovation and  management.), who has described a number of “narrative patterns” from which you may pick for your presentations:

  • Springboard stories refer to concrete situations or problems your audience is facing, to spring them into action. This is an ideal opportunity to bring in your personal experience and talk about a similar situation you were confronted with in the past. It is important that the examples you give have a positive tone and a (sort of) happy ending – which the people in the room can get inspired by, learn from and reuse in their own context.
  • Stories with a moral often take the form of a parable or even of a fairy tale (see e.g. the examples in my “Tell them fairy tales” post). The stories are usually set in a kind of generic past, and have an explicit moral at the end. The context-setting of these tales may be vague and the facts may be hypothetical, but there must be a clear, believable, and –most important of all– an inspiring take-away at the end.
  • Stories about you are based on an event in your personal life event. They help you emotionally connect with your listeners and put a human face (namely, yours) on a problem or solution. As I already mentioned in my post about “A trip down memory lane”, tapping into personal stories often also means sharing details about your private or professional life. Many people may not feel very comfortable with this idea, and it’s a good practice to think before you act, and never share anything you may later regret.
  • Visionary stories take your audience on a trip to the future, give them a perspective on the “things to come”, and inspire them to take action to make this vision become reality. Some of my favorite visuals to start such a presentation with are the postcards created by French artist Villemard, that depict his visions of the year 2000… in the year 1910 (see a sample of his predictions below, I have included more of his cards in my “Back to the future” post.)

villemard4

  • Stories about your brand capitalize on the good reputation of your company, its products or services. These are narratives about happy people who have enjoyed a first class experience with your brand. Turn your audience in advocates too, and enrich your presentation by a few catchy anecdotes or –why not—a video testimonial of a happy customer or a model employee.
  • Knowledge-sharing narratives overall contain few storytelling elements. They concentrate on a (often very specific) problem, a description of the solution and its positive effect(s). This is the pattern most often used in technical presentations. As such, it’s extremely important that you have a good understanding of who is your audience to tailor your presentation to their specific knowledge, needs and expectations (as explained in my “To whom it should concern” post.)
  • You may also use stories for fostering collaboration between the members of your audience. Make sure you are addressing a concern or goal that is shared by a number of people in the room. You may start your presentation e.g. by a poll, enrich the conversation with your personal experience, and fuel the discussion with provocative statements (cfr. my “Begin the beginning” post.)
  • Some people may come to your talk with certain prejudices about you or about your presentation content. First thing you’ll have to do in this case is try to debunk the speculations, mock the gossip and tame the grapevine. Apply rational elements, gentle satire, or even reductio ad absurdum techniques, but avoid shocking or ridiculing your audience. Also beware when the prejudice is right, because, as Steven Denning is saying: “If that’s the case, there is little that can be done except to admit the rumor, put it in perspective, and move on.”

More reading by Steven Denning and about narrative patterns:

About storytellers, storydoers and storymakers

I am currently attending the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. One of these global mega-events, where thought leaders, opinion makers and industry gurus (and also few humble marketers like me) come to tell their stories.

You can hear these corporate storytellers in the auditoria, watch them talk on one of the big screens in the halls and meet them on the exhibition floor.

mwc

Lately I came across a few articles about the need to complement storytelling by storydoing. The idea is simple and straight forward: great companies don’t just tell stories, but they also take action on them.

  • Storytellers are companies or individuals, that convey the story of their brand, business or product by telling that story. As I stated in earlier posts, storytelling is a powerful tool to engage audiences and create worth-of-mouth buzz.
  • Storydoers consciously work to convey their story through direct action. Storydoing companies put the narrative in action and use stories to drive product development and enhance their customers’ experience.

Storydoing should not be considered as a black-or-white alternative to storytelling. In fact, both practices go hand in hand. Storytelling is mainly driven by marketers, while every company employee can contribute to the doing. Recent research by storydoing.com suggests that storydoing companies are better performers, as they tend to spend less money on advertising and paid media, but rather invest in customer engagement and execution.

As a marketer in a fast-moving technology sector, I would tend to add a 3rd category to the ones above:

  • Storymakers are the real market innovators, entrepreneurs and changemakers. They build a whole new story for their product or their company, or even a completely new brand.

Only great personalities are able to combine the three roles above. The Mark Zuckerbergs, Elon Musks and Steve Jobs’s of this world. They not only have great ideas, but they also have the capabilities to execute them and engage their audience – and as such create or change an industry.

So, if you can be a storymaker, a storyteller and a storydoer; And if you can talk your walk, walk your talk, and walk your walk, then you’ll be a man my son… (free interpretation of Rudyard Kipling’s “If”)

Some other articles about storytelling vs. storydoing:

Use your brain, you’ve got three of them

In an earlier post, “yin, yang and your brain,” I have written about the differences between left-brain thinkers and right-brain thinkers. At the end of the article I made a quick reference to a three-layered model of our brain, which is also known as the triune brain.

triune_brain

According to this model, the human brain is —by evolution— made up of three sub-brains that co-habit in the human skull and work together as one.

  • The oldest part of your brain is the archipallium, or the reptilian brain. It’s called that way, because we share it with birds and reptiles. It is responsible for all the ‘automatic’ functions of your body, like controlling your heartbeat, breathing, and your body temperature. Consequently, it is full of fear, and may put you in “survival mode” under (perceived) life-threatening conditions.
    But, unfortunately, this part of your brain can’t make the difference between a real physical threat and an imaginary threat, like fear of public speaking. This is why some presenters freeze up when they get in front of an audience.
    So, when you’re overwhelmed by stage fright, blame it on your reptile brain (and try to apply some of the tips I have presented in my “no more fear of speaking” post.)
  • On top of the archipallium is the paleopallium, a.k.a. the mammalian brain or the limbic system. Most mammals, such as cats and dogs, have one. This part of the brain drives you to seek pleasure and avoid pain. When you get emotional about things like food, sex or violence, it’s that part of your brain that is working.
    Since people will never forget how you made them feel, this part of the brain is extremely important for both you as a presenter and for your audience. When triggered by positive emotions, the limbic system will inject a shot of dopamine into their brains and make them feel warm, comfortable and confident. And when confronted with a painful situation, they will want to avoid it happening to them and become receptive to the solutions you are proposing.
  • On top of both of the two older, inner brains there is the neopallium, or the neocortex. It is also called the rational brain, and takes up a massive two-thirds of the human brain (although some of us may not utilize it to its full extent.) When you are thinking and reasoning, this is the part of your brain that’s doing the job. It’s also responsible for interpreting language and figures.
    A common problem is that many speakers solely rely on the ratio of their audience. But, sometimes the neocortex gets overpowered by one of its peer brains, and lets fear or emotion take power over their feelings, reactions or decisions.

As a conclusion, knowing how the human brain works, being able to control the triggers you send out, and understanding the way that the people in your audience will react to them are extremely important if you want to deliver an impactful presentation. Doing or telling the right things may influence your listener’s opinion, appreciation and behavior. But always beware: if this knowledge is not used wisely it may give you a false feeling of control.

NB: recently, a new brain model has shown up, dividing people into top-brain and bottom-brain users (read this: Right-Brained Or Left-Brained? Actually, You May Be Neither)

Other articles about this topic that are worth reading: